Missing the Mark: 5 Ads That Enraged Their Target Audiences

By Anthony Shields  FEB 06, 2013 10:10 AM

A look at five commercials that angered their original fan base.


MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Good marketing can be a lot harder than it seems, especially when established companies are going after new customers. Sometimes in their efforts to create funny or eye-catching ads, marketing teams will go too far and find themselves in the middle of a controversy. The following is a list of companies who in the attempt of turning new consumers on to their products and services turned them off with what they were saying.

5. “I Am Not a Gamer.”-Nintendo

With the growing popularity of gaming industry and the successful merging of geek culture and pop culture in blockbusters like Marvel’s (NYSE:DIS) The Avengers and Wreck it Ralph, “Geek Chic” seems to be at a high-point in America. As such, the age old image of the gamer as being a social-outcast has quickly been abandoned as everyone from grandparents to frat-boys are playing games lately. So with all this progress being made why did Nintendo (PINK:NTDOY), one of the very hallmarks of gaming culture, decided to launch ads for its 3DS handheld with the phrase “I am not a gamer”. The ads all show accomplished and attractive girls, such as gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas and actress Dianna Agron, playing on the console and exclaiming Nintendo’s new catchphrase. Nintendo intention seemed to on reaching out to young girls, a growing but currently underrepresented demographic of the gaming community. Instead the Japanese company instigated the ire of its fanbase, who felt they were being dismissed, or else insulted. Perhaps worse, the ads may have played a role in the recent backlash against girls in gaming, wherein harassment and ridicule of has increased, forcing community members and journalists to address the issue. In the end, the ads were bad for girls, bad for gamers, and I doubt Nintendo felt a sales increase of it.

4. “The Mazda CX-5 Lorax ads”-Mazda

Is it ironic that the Lorax, Dr. Seuss’ iconic character that warned against unchecked corporate interests, became a mascot for IHOP (NYSE:DIN) to Target (NYSE:TGT), Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) and Pottery Barn in the days leading up to its movie release this year? If so, then is it more ironic that same character, and well known “voice of the trees”, loudly championed Mazda’s CX-5 (PINK:MZDAF) line of SUVs? Ironic or not, everyone from environmentalists to auto journalists found Mazda’s ads to be in bad taste, and against the very message of Seuss’ book. Despite the backlash, Mazda never commented on the controversy, most likely because it was only 1 of 70 companies that managed to tie in on the movie, and instead let the issue simply pass by as Steven Colbert mocked the company in Seuss-ian verse.     
3. “Re-civilize yourself”-Nivea

Nivea is pretty well known for its successful skin care line for women, but earlier this year the company decided that strengthening their line for men would be a good idea. Admittedly, it’s harder to get guys to care about their image so Nivea’s marketing guys appealed to their audience by using some aggressive language and imagery in its 2011 “Re-Civilize Yourself” campaign. However, the company didn’t think things through, and decided to run an ad for Esquire Magazine depicting a short hair and clean shaven black man in a button up shirt about to throw a black mask with an afro and a beard. Many readers felt that imagery was subtlety racist and voiced their disgust to Nivea. Nivea was quick to point out that the campaign had other ads featuring white men in similar circumstances, but still changed the direction of its campaign to make it less controversial.   

2. “White PSP”- Sony 

To be fair, nearly ALL of the early ads for the Sony’s (NYSE:SNE) PSP and PS3 were disasters, but the electronics maker’s 2006 ad for its white PSP was the first to start an actual controversy. When the Sony wanted to announce the arrival of their white PSP in the Netherlands, their choice of imagery made its potential consumers pretty uncomfortable. Sony’s Billboard depicted a blonde white woman dressed entirely in white aggressively grabbing a black woman dressed in all black. Naturally, this color scheme raised a considerable amount of racial tension and a good deal of complaints. In reality, the ad was only one of three that showed a back and forth struggle, though the fact that Sony wanted to display its products in conflict seems like a poor strategy in the first place. Sony later pulled the ad and issued an apology.

1. “Tibet Super Bowl Ad”-Groupon

Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN) gets little love on the markets these days, but it really turned people off with its 2011 SuperBowl XLV ads. For the game, the company launched three different commercials starring actors with the same conceit. The commercial would feign interest in particular social issue like saving whales or the rainforest, only to reveal that it was just an ad for the websites services. Admittedly this was in bad taste, but it was Groupon’s as that seemingly mocked the plights of Tibet, that caused an uproar. The ads were called both racist and ignorant, by multiple organization, with only Greenpeace willing to cut them some slack. Still due to overwhelming pressure on February 10, 2011, CEO Andrew Mason issued an apology and dropped the ads.
No positions in stocks mentioned.